Many communities across America have languished during the healing process that follows a setback, slowly recovering from weather disasters, economic downturns, political chaos or other crises. Michigan, however, has powered its way back from the Great Recession by reinventing itself and reinvesting in its core.
The turbocharged recovery of Detroit and the automotive industry as well as Michigan tourism have made headlines, but not so closely followed has been an equally vigorous expansion of Michigan’s venture capital ecosystem. These comebacks are exciting investors, businesses and politicians as they watch an economy that’s rebounding against many odds, and we at Airfoil get it. Strategic invention – and reinvention – is what we know best.
Airfoil was both born of the dot-com era and threatened by its implosion shortly after starting up in 2000. But today, we have grown to become Michigan’s largest public relations and marketing firm, despite economic challenges to both our headquarters state and the industries we represent.
We’ve learned that a great idea is worth the work. Airfoil stayed in metro Detroit when the region faced economic collapse and doubled down our Michigan investment by continually growing our staff and our local client base. We believed in the potential of a region saturated with advanced manufacturing and transportation technology know-how. We followed our intuition that the auto industry could be a new frontier for tech innovation and growth, identifying synergies between who we are – Motor City-born- and-bred entrepreneurs – and what we love: technology. It’s so rewarding to see a return on the investment.
Similarly, leaders behind the automotive industry’s reinvention are also laser-focused on their missions, rather than the minutiae. For example, Michigan has set out on a 30-year strategic plan to further elevate its status as a global automotive industry leader. Nigel Francis, the industry veteran charged by Gov. Rick Snyder with the plan’s execution, has noted the importance of such long-term planning, rather than short-term fixes. At the Society of Automotive Engineers 2014 World Congress, Francis shared that his team secured a global company’s interest by promoting potential long-term savings from building its plant at an optimal site instead of seeking incentives. “If they put it in the wrong place, their logistics cost will become a billion dollars over the lifetime,” he said. “When you look at a billion dollar decision, does it really matter that there’s $5 million or $7 million upfront? We must learn not to have those discussions.”
Venture capital has become another long-term success here. Five years ago in Michigan, only seven early-stage companies raised money from venture capital investors in the first quarter; this year, 31 have done so. Startup investment has been a story more than a decade in the making. State and local leaders devised a policy to make early-stage investments more viable, and after 14 years it (at last) has paid off.
Michigan’s story energizes us at Airfoil and makes us even more confident in the futures of our state and our business community. But it doesn’t surprise us, because the leaders behind our rejuvenated and emerging industries are thinking strategically, acting boldly, and proving they think Michigan is an idea worth working for.